Launch Pad Day Four, Catch-up Post: Genevieve Valentine Writes about Jim Verley on Science Education

To see the rest of my posts about Launch Pad, click here.

Yesterday, I went home to sleep for a bit during the last lecture of the day. The perpetually chic and brilliant author Genevienve Valentine was kind enough to take notes in my stead. (She’s available in blog form, and twitter form, and is blogging some about Launch Pad at, in addition to her usual movie reviews.) Thanks, Genevieve!

The discussion I missed looks pretty cool, actually. I particularly like Marjorie Liu‘s thinking about social issues and Kelly Barnhill‘s consideration of issues in the educational process itself.

Speaker: Jim Verley
The Stem Disciplines are important, Science, Technology, Engineering, Math – just not as important/popular any more

Computer technology is the exception

“The further we move from being a scientifically literate society, the more we’re going to falter on the global stage, which I think we’re already seeing a little bit.”
2009 – “Are We Beginning to See the Light?” survey by GE

In Wyoming, due to No Child Left Behind, schools have 1-1.5 hours of science every week.
US Students rank 25th in math and technology and 21st in science skills internationally
2007 ACT report: only 27% of high school grads are ready for college science

One of the keys for people being engaged in science is science fiction.

When Verley asks students to give him their version of a scientist, the response: white coat, goggles, etc.

Star Wars ushered in a new way science fiction was portrayed. Even though the science was flawed, it was key in that it engaged kids.

(Kelly Barnhill says that “All Summer in a Day” is a short story she taught to her students which strongly engaged them. It also made Kelly want to write; Cecelia Tan says it also made her want to write.)
The Five Core Ideas in Earth and Space Sciences

– Humans are a part of a vast universe. Planet Earth is part of the solar system, which is part of the milky way, which is one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe.

– Earth is a complex and dynamic 4.6 billion year old system of rock, water, air, and life.
– Earth’s surface continually changes from the cycling of water and rock driven by sunlight and gravity.
– Human activities are constrained by, and in turn, affect all other processes at Earth’s surface.
– Macroscopic states and characteristic properties of matter depend on the type, arrangement, and motion of particles at the molecular and atomic scales.

“Great education inspires kids; great literature does, too.”

Standardized “out-of-the-box programs” do kids a disservice by requiring results, not engaging children in the material for retention/critical thinking.
Johannes Kepler wrote speculative materials about space, much of which was not published until after his death. He said to Galileo, “Given only ships and right sails for the heavenly space, there will also be men unafraid of the terrible distances.”

Da Vinci: “Who would believe that so small a space could contain all the images of the universe?” (the eye)

Robert Frost: “Here come more stars to character the skies,

And they in the estimation of the wise

Are more divine than any bulb or arc,

Because their purpose is to flash and spark,

But not to take away the precious dark”

Thoreau: “Why should I feel lonely? Is not our planet in the Milky Way?”
Our ability to produce good scientists in our schools will suffer unless we can interest kids in the STEM disciplines.

One way is to have fun with science. Example: Study: The case of the disappearing teaspoons: Longitudinal cohort study of the displacement of teaspoons in an Australian research institute, British Medical Journal Volume 331
Kelly: on one hand we have an issue of science fiction being referential and the feeling is that sci fi is clubby/off-putting (Cecelia: “Like jazz, where people think it’s not accessible”) – an advantage of YA fiction is that sci-fi is shelved in YA and not separated. It’s an ideal opportunity to tackle politics and social issues that should be in adult fiction as well – just books, not genres.

Bud: when I started reading sci fi, it was considered crap by librarians, teachers, etc, which made it more attractive/forbidden. In the 60s was the sea change – Stranger in a Strange Land – magical realism might be fulfilling this purpose now, but the audience for sci-fi is still bigger than it used to be.
Cecelia: sci-fi TV has expanded perhaps more than the book market. Bud: it’s more ubiquitous to have a TV than to seek out the books.

Bud: a lot of sci fi tropes in ads. Cecelia: a lot of sci-fi tropes are now reality.
Verley: Harry Potter transformed reading for a lot of kids – engaged them in the process
Carrie: I can’t help but wonder how much opposition you’re expecting from the religious right when it comes to teaching science.

Verley: If you’re teaching anything about evolution or the development of the solar system, you will absolutely run into opposition, and there’s a new avenue for this in Intelligent Design.

Brotherton: underlying problem is anti-intellectualism.

Ian: We have a separation of church and state, and religion and science must each be labeled when they appear. Science (with tested hypotheses/evidence) should be presented as science, and religious tenets should be presented as religion.
Kelly: science is a process, not a list of truths, and it’s often taught as the latter, which means that folks on the other side are claiming list of truths vs. list of truths. Fetishization of persecution then occurs.
Marjorie: I wasn’t aware of some social issues growing up, but I read fantasy novels and that opened my mind, whatever people are faced with at home life and school life, if they are exposed to literature, they will eventually learn to think on their own.

Ian: the problem is to make parents value learning so children have an opportunity to learn to love reading.

Christine: our best avenue for the next generation is cross-disciplinary teaching.
Marjorie: Neither side has a corner on stereotyping/polarization

Kelly: The 50-minute class period is limiting – it can’t be “investigating the evidence and discussing various interpretations” and becomes “do you believe in evolution?” Lack of curriculum that allows for discussion
Cecelia: this is an issue of fundamentalism vs. non-fundamentalism

Verley: I had a student with whom I spent four hours after class explaining the scale of the universe; she went away in tears because she was so shaken by the new scope.
Monte: Science will lose if it continues to fight on religion’s turf.

Cecelia/Marjorie: answer has to be “I believe the evidence that’s been presented so far”…leaving room for development of the process.

Verley: science is always changing, new things being discovered, the big picture is always moving to accommodate new information

Brotherton: the actual things have not changed: our perception/beliefs/knowledge about them has changed. Also, we use terminology, “theory, belief,” that are more religious terms, and the distinction is often not made.
Monte: Science is not the anti-religion
Brotherton: What a scientific belief means: “This is what we know so far, this is what he don’t know, this is how I’m thinking about the information right now.”
Bud: Scientists also fight amongst each other trying for one-upsmanship. Getting further from nature; theologically, when I was high school we did experiments with objects that maybe blew up, so now it’s theoretical/presentation/simulation, so we’re getting increasingly farther away from the process of science.
Verley: Ideal science curriculum: “No Child Left Inside” – recess is necessary, hands-on learning is key to engaging students. Appreciation of science is key to engaging students/general public.

Brotherton: We’ve had a lot of emphasis this week on education. The submitted educational-program proposal, written by teachers, was written by people who were inspired to become scientists by reading science fiction and wondering what was possible.

Kelly: One of the reasons I enjoy writing is because I enjoyed science and research for the book was fun; writing about kids with passions means readers can get passionate/inspired, too.

Ian: Be subversive. Sci fi lost its edge when it became acceptable, like in advertising. Make sci fi subversive again and you’ll find a passionate audience – like video games, which are still more subversive than most literature today.
Marjorie: if you’re not banned somewhere, you’re not doing it right

Ian: subversion doesn’t mean violent/destructive thinking, just thinking that’s different from the mainstream

Dave: the real enemy is the apathetic middle.

Marjorie: often there’s no inspiration from parents who are otherwise too busy to worry/care about education.

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